Sabres coach Dan Bylsma joined WGR's Hockey Hotline this afternoon, and gave his thoughts on something we've been debating on this site for months - Rasmus Ristolainen's usage and development, or decline, last season.
Bylsma spoke with Matthew Coller and Craig Rivet on today's program as a surprise guest who just happened to be in the building. You can listen to the audio here - Bylsma starts at the 3:30 mark - and here's what the Sabres head coach had to say about Ristolainen:
"We put him into a lot of tough situations and I think some of the numbers that roll out on him as far as Corsi and possession do reflect that, but frankly we played him too much at times. He's not going to like to hear this, but he's not a guy that should be getting 28 to 30 minutes per night although we did it to him and we put him in those situations. His number should be in the 24 minute per game range and that's where you'll see him be at this next year and his numbers will improve too because of that."
I've argued that Ristolainen's drop in play in the second half of the season was partly due to fatigue from simply playing so many minutes at such a young age, and it seems Bylsma and his staff agree. Risto's average ice time of 25:16 per game last season was 10th overall in the NHL - should he drop down to Bylsma's suggested 24:00 per game, that still would have put him at 21st in the league, right near players like Zdeno Chara, Justin Faulk, Alex Goligoski, and Andrei Markov.
It will be a bit easier for Bylsma to rein in Ristolainen's ice time with Dimitry Kulikov serving as an upgrade over Josh Gorges, giving the Sabres more depth in their top four, but will he be able to resist putting out the team's young stud for those extra few shifts later in a tight game? I agree that with another solid offseason of physical development and a better playing partner, Ristolainen's numbers could well go up despite the loss in ice time, but we'll see come next season.
Bylsma also offered his thoughts on fancy stats, giving a very measured take on things like Corsi and zone starts.
"I think you win hockey games by playing in the offensive zone, the puck's there, you win the game. Corsi is a general version of that, it's not perfect, its shot based so you can have possession of the puck and never shoot it and your Corsi is going to be zero, so you have to be careful when you talk about it. Some people fire the puck from the outside, so you have to be careful where the shots come from and the quality of shot when you talk Corsi."
He also mentioned understanding which zone his players start in will have an impact on their Corsi, and how using a player like Jack Eichel in the defensive zone can actually help drive the offense because Eichel can either get the puck and start a scoring rush himself, or zip through the neutral zone with the help of a good outlet pass.
"The quality of scoring chances that come from long transition or a turnover in the defensive zone are greater and better than just starting in the offensive zone."
Personally I'm a fan of the way Bylsma views things like Corsi - a useful tool to have, but not the be-all, end-all that determines a game's outcome, and also how he places an emphasis about controlling the puck in the offensive zone. The best defense is a good offense, at least from a certain angle. The Sabres coach is back in his office at the
First Niagara Key Bank Center after a month's vacation, and is preparing for the new season ahead, and maybe working on some new forward lines for tomorrow?
Give us your take on Bylsma's thoughts in the comments.